| Von Glasersfeld's answers - December IV 2005  |

 
 
 


QUESTION:
Dear Prof. Dr. von Glasersfeld,
 
Since I've have read a tale from Jorge Luis Borges (La Biblioteca de
Babel - The Babel's library) I'm a little obssesed with this question. If
we use an alphabet with a certain amount of letters and certain
punctuation signs to express ourselfs, and they are limited, not
infinite.
 
Can we say that if we combine all those letters and signs, we can
obtain as result, all the things that we, as humans, using writing
language can create.
 
If that is the conclusion... What are the implications about our
thinking, about knowledge?
 
There's a story also about these, expressed in a better way than I
have done it, writing by Kurd Lasswitz called "Die Universalbibliothek"
(The universal library).
 
I'm studying in Law School in Chile. My native language is Spanish
(Castellano) so I apologies for my awful english. Thanks anyway.
 
Fernando Williams
 

 

 
ANSWER:
 
Dear Mr. Williams,
Borges is a master at generating interesting confusions. If you took the
letters of the alphabet and randomly combined them (with repetitions)
into sets of, say, up to twenty letters, I guess that maybe 0.001%
percent of them would be words of the language. As the "things we create"
more often than not require sentences to be be expressed, words alone
don't cover much of what we know. Sentences are not limited with regard
to the number of words they can contain and random word combinations
rarely make sense. So the notion of capturing what we think by the
combinations of letters or words is nonsense.
 
Besides, we can "create" a lot more than we can express in language; just
think of your dreams! The notion that our thinking is tied to language
is, from my point of view, misguided.
 
Best wishes,
 
Ernst von Glasersfeld
 

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